LEWISTON – The first few days of boot camp at Parris Island were a bit surreal for Pvt. Ulysses Milana. He couldn’t quite put his finger on why his fellow Marine recruits looked at him a bit funny or asked, “Hey, you look familiar. Are you THAT guy?”

It wasn’t until a couple days into the rigorous regime that Milana finally discovered who “THAT guy” was when he went for his routine physical and shots. A doctor on base recognized him and pulled up his smiling face on the Internet – where literally hundreds of people blogged, posted and twittered him to national stardom.

Suddenly, the shy guy from Lewiston who shed 140 pounds to fulfill his lifelong dream of joining the military was an overnight sensation. And yet, the devoted 23-year-old husband was determined not to let anything derail his dream of making good on the goal he set for himself 11 months and 155 pounds ago.

“I’m doing this because I wanted to be a Marine,” Milana said of turning down dozens of endorsement offers from diet supplement suppliers. “I’m not doing this so that I can support somebody’s diet pills.”

Since leaving for boot camp in January, Milana’s lost an additional 15 pound, toned his muscle and – most important to him – gained a newfound self-confidence. He returned to Lewiston last week on leave before reporting to Marine combat training at Camp Geiger in North Carolina early next week.

Milana said calling his reaction to the national attention “surprising” would be an understatement. “Overwhelmed” would better fit the bill. And no one was more overcome by the emotional outpouring of support for Ulysses than his wife of four years, Latoya, who spent the last two months responding to each and every message sent to her husband’s overflowing MySpace inbox.

Latoya, a nurse at St. Mary’s Hospital, said the story that moved her most was that of a morbidly obese woman who had already shed nearly 300 pounds because doctors told her two years ago that she would die if she didn’t lose weight. At that time, she weighed more than 500 pounds.

Latoya said the woman wrote her about how she’d reach a weight-loss rut and seemed to be stuck at 260 pounds. Reading Ulysses’ story renewed the woman’s commitment and inspired her to keep trying. Like Milana the woman lost all the weight through diet and exercise, rather than surgery.

“I’m sitting there, reading a stack of letters like this thick,” Milana said, holding his thumb and forefinger about 2 inches apart. “I’m reading all that and I’m thinking to myself, ‘Holy smokes!'”

Latoya said the biggest change that she’d noticed in her husband was his self-confidence. Additionally, she felt like Ulysses’ weight-loss experience better prepared him for the hard work and long days that Marine boot camp is known for.

Milana declined everything from product endorsements to movie deals to book offers to interviews with major media. To him, there are dozens of dieting role models out there worthy of Hollywood. For now, the modest husband and uncle is just happy to be home – even if it is for a brief time – and even more committed to following through with his dream.

“You join the military so you can serve your country. You don’t join so that you can endorse a pill,” Milana said. “If I were to do something, it would be to help promote my branch. I would do it to help get more recruits. I’m not going to sell myself out or sell out the people who helped me.”

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